By Suzanne Parker
While overall per capita beer consumption in the United States has gone flat, craft beers have been experiencing heady growth.
At least five microbreweries — with two more on the way — have bubbled up in Queens in the last two years.
Craft brewing is an extension of the artisanal food movement, which rejects the corporate business model that dominates the supply chain of most commodities.
“The growth in local microbreweries is just another indication that artisanal foods and beverages are a growing business, important to our economy,” Seth Bornstein, executive director of the Queens Economic Development Corp., said. “Historically, Queens had some significant breweries and beer gardens, so it is great to see the renewed interest.”
Queens resident Harriet Lembeck, who runs the Harriet Lembeck Wine & Spirits Program, teaches a session on beers and malt beverages.
“In olden days, brewing was done at home, or at least, at the local baker, who had lots of grains and yeast on hand. Beer is perishable, which is one reason that local brews are a good thing,” Lembeck said. “There has always been an affection for local brews, and the craft movement signals a return to those feelings.”
Without exception, the Queens microbrewers we met started out as home brewers and approach the craft as a labor of love.
Their scale gives them the luxury of creating products pitched to a small but discerning audience. They can experiment with an unfettered vocabulary of techniques and ingredients, limited only by their imagination.
They are way more passionate about their product than their bottom line. For beer lovers, this could be the start of a happy — and hoppy — relationship.
Rockaway Brewing Co.
Marcus Burnett, whose day job is a videographer with National Geographic, started home brewing in his beach bungalow in the Rockaways. His beers were so sought after by friends and neighbors who sampled them that he knew he was onto something. About two years ago, he founded Rockaway Brewing Co. with Ethan Long, who had a theatrical set design company in Long Island City, and John Chapman, who had actual commercial brewing experience in Minnesota. They claim bragging rights to being the first licensed microbrewery in Queens since prohibition.
Most of their brews are sold to nearby restaurants and watering holes and in the Rockaways during the summer. On Fridays, from 3-8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays noon-6 p.m., visitors can purchase growlers of beer or, for $6, tour the brewery and sample a flight of four beers.
46-01 5th St., Long Island City
Big Alice Brewing
Big Alice Brewing, eponymously named for the nearby Con Ed plant, sets itself apart with unique ingredients and brewing methods.
“If craft beer is a niche, we’re a niche within a niche,” Kyle Hurst, co-founder, said.
Indeed, they add quirky ingredients to their brews like Buddha’s Hand, “a very fragrant citron fruit, from California,” or banana habaneros, or shiso and Szechuan honey. To compound their unorthodoxy, they give their brews a final fermentation in bottles with tied down corks in the beer equivalent of the methode champagnoise. The results tend to yield levels of alcohol in the 9 percent to 13 percent range.
Big Alice’s business model is equally unorthodox. Although visitors can stop by on Fridays from 5-7 p.m. to buy whatever they happen to have on hand for $18 for a 1-pint 9-ounce bottle, they mainly sell their product through a “CSB” — the beer equivalent of Community Supported Agriculture. For $200 a year, you can lay claim to two bottles of beer set aside for each member per month at the brewery.
808 43rd Road, Long Island City
(347) 688-BEER or (347) 688-2337
Although not the oldest of Queens’ microbreweries, Singlecut Beersmith has the look and feel of the most well-established. Perhaps owner Rich Buceta’s background in advertising taught him how to effectively market his product. This Queens native opened his brewery in December 2012, after doing a stint at Greenpoint Brewery learning the craft. Singlecut specializes in its own meticulously crafted versions of traditional lagers, English Pale Ales, and IPAs.
In addition to selling kegs to local brew pubs and restaurants, Singlecut operates a tap room, with a view of the whole operation. On Thursdays from 4-11 p.m., Fridays from 4 p.m.-1 a.m., Saturdays from 1 p.m.-1 a.m., you can order beer by the glass and actual food from their kitchen or take home a growler. They have frequent special events which range from live music to food pairings and mini beer classes.
19-33 37th Ave., Astoria
Finback Brewery, which began brewing just last November, is one of the newest on the Queens scene. College drinking buddies Basil Lee, who worked as an architect, and Kevin Stafford, who pursued a career as a graphic artist, left their day jobs to found a brewery with a tap room, event space and beer garden in a warehouse nestled in the quiet residential neighborhood of Glendale.
Only the brewing is operational right now, but they hope to have the rest up and running by April. Until then, you can sample their hoppy beers at Edison Place in Glendale, and the Forest Hills Station House.
78-01 77th Ave., Ridgewood
Bridge and Tunnel Brewery
Seemingly through the use of alchemy, Queens native Rich Castegna has turned a single-car garage into an efficient brewery capable of turning out 48-gallon batches two or three times a month serving about 25 accounts. He built or modified all his equipment himself, even using his neighbor’s unwanted oak flooring to decoratively clad his tanks. He aims for a retro-quality in his beers, using his proprietary techniques to replicate old-time beer flavors. With a definite emphasis on dark beers, some of his signature brews include Milk and Oatmeal Stout and Coffee Cream Ale.
Bridge and Tunnel brewery is a family affair. Castagna’s wife Lisa keeps the books and handles administrative functions. It is Castagna’s dream to build the business so that some day he can pass it along to his daughters.
61-02 60th Ave., Flushing
And Coming Soon:
Transmitter expects to open in early spring. They will specialize in farmhouse ale made from wild yeast.
53- 02 11th St., Long Island City
(347) 528-0091 or (646) 378-8529
Although their namesake Lager is currently available at brewpubs around Queens, they are currently brewing in Upstate New York, but are looking for space in western Queens.
Best places to hoist a Queens-brewed pint:
40-17 Broadway, Astoria
A mindboggling and ever changing list of artisanal alchoholic and non-alchoholic beverages served with artisanal locally sourced vegetarian food.
5-14 51st Ave, Long Island City
An ale-o-centric gastropub featuring craft beers and local brews.
Forest Hills Station House
106-11 71st Ave., Forest Hills
A gastropub with an impressive lineup of local brews, and a gourmet-ish bent to their noshes.